Tried to tender, but failed?

Never fall into the same trap again by understanding common mistakes you really ought to know about!

Who said that the tendering process is easy? Er … no-one … ever … as far as I know! That’s because there are often large sums of money involved, many applicants, many evaluators, and many pitfalls.

 

So here, and it might sound a little negative, we’re going to go through some of the common mistakes that are made during the bid writing procedure that just keep popping up time and time again. And don’t worry if you hear bells ringing. If you’ve made any of these errors before, you won’t be alone. Leave errors well and truly in the past and learn from them. Move on.

Hindsight is a fabulous thing, but whilst it may come too late to win your bid, it’s also a valuable way to discover where silly mistakes were made and how, with a little time and patience, those mistakes can be turned on their head into something that brings success. What follows is just a handful of oversights and faults that could have easily been avoided…

1. Not reading, or mis-reading the paperwork 

It isn’t too much to ask is it? Once the paperwork has arrived, sit down, grab a cuppa, and read the whole thing through. Then read it again. It doesn’t have to be straight away if time is short, but always, always read it again. This second read-through will consolidate what you’ve read first time round and questions that may have felt vague now make sense. You should also pick up things that you might have mis-read at first. It’s so easy to spot when a question has been mis-read or not read through thoroughly. The answers and details (however clearly put) just don’t match up with what’s being asked. The result is a poor score, a thrown out bid and a waste of your time!

2. Not presenting the correct documents

This is bread-and-butter stuff and bidders lose easy marks for not including the right documentation. Getting things ready before making a start means that nothing gets left out or forgotten. Evaluators won’t waste time chasing up missing documents and something as straight forward as this could mean the difference between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no.’ Core documents such as insurances, policies and procedures, testimonials, financial data and previous contracts should be easily available. Not presenting what has been requested is a sure route to failure.

3. Rushing

Pure and simple! And whilst I’m not a patriot of old saying and clichés … if you fail to prepare – you prepare to fail! It’s so obvious when reading a tender that the writer has rushed through the whole thing. Answers and explanations seem disjointed and some sections are barely answered at all. It soon becomes clear that little planning has gone in to the process, yet alone time. A well-presented tender will by no means be the first draft! There should have been at least two or three prior to the final one being prepared, and this really does take some time. Evaluators can soon spot a rushed attempt and will be quick to jump on poorly executed answers.

4. Poor use of language and over-use of jargon

These go hand-in-hand and make for an uncomfortable read by the evaluators. Answers and explanations should flow easily so that it’s clear what is being described. Poor grammar, bad spelling, disjointed phrases and scratchy responses won’t help the reader to picture the valuable skills-set and experience that’s on offer. Using the jargon and terminology that’s in use in the writer’s everyday routine won’t necessarily be understood, and the readers won’t want to start rooting around trying to find out what’s being said. Be clear and concise.

5. Not proof-reading

A continuation of point (4) above. It’s always amazing that some people fail to get ‘a fresh pair of eyes’ to look over their work. Not everyone is a star at putting things down on paper and many even feel uncomfortable doing so, yet they still try to muddle through without help. The resultant disorderly structure sticks out like a sore thumb and does little to inspire confidence. Having a bid document proofread is time well spent and can highlight any gremlins so that obvious mistakes can be rectified. Poorly phrased answers can be recast and an alternative perspective can be gained. The result will be a well-presented and well-written tender that’s a pleasure to read.

So never fall in to the same trap that others have fallen in to. Address the basics and you’ll form a sound foundation for your bid writing. For more information on getting it right, contact us for a chat, we’ll be pleased to help.

Brexit & Procurement

Much has been said over the last few days about Brexit, following the outcome of the referendum which took place on 23rd June. Whether you voted to remain, or to leave, several companies have asked what the impact of Brexit will be on their businesses from a procurement perspective.

The bottom line is that in the short term, there will be no changes to procurement legislation. The Public Contracts Regulations (2015) will continue to apply to public sector procurement opportunities until such time as they are replaced or amended. Given the mountain of legislation that will need to be reviewed and amended in light of our departure from the European Union, I’m not convinced that the existing procurement legislation will be particularly high up on the priority list. I say that particularly since the new legislation introduced in 2015 was heavily influenced by the UK Government and reflected many of their requirements.

It may be that over time there are some tweaks and minor revisions, but for now, it is definitely business as usual, so if you want to win more tenders from the public sector, making sure your business is able to comply with the Public Contracts Regulations (2015) is still important.

If you’re still not sure and want to discuss it further, please get in touch.

Future proofing the perfect policy for tenders

If you’ve carried out a bit of groundwork when it comes to tender applications, you’ve probably realised that familiar terms and phrases keep popping up. Tender bid phrases such as ‘up-to-date,’ ‘training, ’‘communication’ and ‘review.’ And I make no excuse in saying that you’ll probably continue to see these expressions in future writings as they have a particular importance when it comes to policy and procedure.

Once you have your policies and procedures complete – they’re well written, comprehensive and are relevant to what you do – then the majority of your work is finished. These documents will form sound foundations for the future of your business. Occasionally they will need updating from time to time, passed on to relevant members of staff, used as a basis for training, but they can easily be reviewed and tweaked at timely intervals as the crux of work has been carried out.

Whilst it would be impossible to trawl through every one of those documents here, I can certainly highlight what I think you will need for your tender, and hopefully give you some pointers about what the assessors will be looking for.

So what’s it all about? Well, the typical policies that may be requested by a buying organisation will include:

  • Quality Management
  • Health & Safety
  • Equality & Diversity
  • Environmental Management
  • Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery Planning
  • Social Value

Do you know how many of these are already in place within your business? If you’re not sure, take the time to see if they are saved electronically or filed on paper. It’s well worth digging them out and refreshing your memory. If they’re looking a bit dated, are not in place, or don’t contain enough detail, then it’s time to develop them with immediate effect, before you start submitting tenders. There most certainly won’t be time to do this properly and be able to embed them within the organisation and review them during the middle of a tender process. Not a chance.

You will need to ensure that the documents offer an accurate reflection of what you do as a business? Have they been reviewed and updated? When was it? Was this recorded? Was training required?

Ooops, there are those phrases again!

Quality Management

Quality Management and Quality Accreditations will certainly come up during a tender application and you may be asked to describe your systems and procedures together with the review processes you have in place. You may also be asked about how, specifically, you communicate your quality policies and procedures to your staff, suppliers and stakeholders if appropriate.

Hmmm … is that all?

If you’ve achieved some awards in this area, then you may be tempted to just list your proud accolades! But beware!

If the awards focus specifically on an aspect of your procedures and processes, great, go ahead and include them. But never include awards that have absolutely no relationship whatsoever to your quality management systems. Leave them out of this section and raise them elsewhere.

Why? Well, it’s like answering an exam question. If you provide information you haven’t been asked for, you’ll get no credit for it and could even score zero.

Keep to the point!

If you are already accredited, be prepared to upload a copy of your accreditation certificate or provide hard copy evidence for inspection. If you can provide specific examples of what you do, then do so, always making them relevant to the question asked.

Ask yourself … is quality discussed in management meetings? How are policies reviewed and revised? Are management meetings minuted? Is your quality policy signed by your Managing Director?

These are excellent details to include and they help to show that the subject of quality is taken seriously. It proves scalability and accountability too.

If you have any quality accreditations, such as ISO9001, work to the European Framework for Quality Management or the Business Excellence Model. Remember, you may be asked to include details and outline review dates.

But don’t panic if you don’t have these. If you’ve got good quality management systems in place, or can re-evaluate them fairly quickly to ensure they are robust, then things should be fine.

Tender writers often forget about feedback, including instances of poor feedback and complaints. Don’t see this as negative. Every company receives grumbles from customers at some point. That’s life. But if you deal with these matters properly, learn from them, communicate and update things, then this will be seen as a positive aspect.

If you are asked to upload a copy of your complaints policy, make sure it’s robust!

Is your complaints policy publicly available? It is important to keep a record of any complaints received? It is also worthwhile documenting who sees complaints within your business, who investigates then and how they are responded to. Remember, always be open and honest, even if you feel uncomfortable in declaring how many complaints you have received over the last twelve months. It’s more about what they were and most importantly, how you resolved them.  

Health and Safety

Often the butt of many a joke or sarcastic comment, Health and Safety is a huge subject area and one which is immensely important. In this section you may be asked if you are Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS) accredited. If you are, then there is no need to respond to any further health and safety related questions because accreditation against the CHAS scheme is challenging and robust enough as it is. The accreditation is not easy to secure and is re-assessed on an annual basis.  Tender assessors a re well aware of this. Even if you are not CHAS accredited there is no need to worry!

You may have other accreditations that are appropriate which come under the umbrella of the Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) banner and include a significant number of schemes and accrediting bodies. If you employ five or more staff, you must by law have a written Health & Safety Policy. Have a look to see if it needs updating. Think about what aspects of your business require a specific focus on health and safety? Are they documented? Yet again, those familiar phrases will appear.

How do you communicate the policy to your staff? How often do you review the policies and who is involved in that review process? Is training necessary? Who does this?

Have you spoken with a qualified Health and Safety specialist?

It could be time well spent because they will be able to provide you with advice and guidance on all health and safety related issues. If you do use someone with those credentials in your business, make sure you reference them in the tender if asked. And always remember risk assessments. Having them carried out regularly is good practice but how often do you review them for accuracy or for any changes that may have occurred? Do your risk assessments include any equipment or vehicles? Write it all down!

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides excellent information and resources to help you.  Visit their website to see what you may have missed out.

Finally, in this article, we’ll quickly cover the accident record. Invariably, you will be asked about your accident record, and the recording system used for monitoring accidents and incidents within the business. As we’ve said all along … don’t panic about this, just be open and honest. If you’ve had any accidents or incidents, tell the buying organisation. Outline what was done to resolve the situation and what you’ve subsequently implemented. Was training required as a result? Who did this and was it beneficial?

Getting these policies and procedures correct, right from the start, is well worth the time as they form solid foundations from which to work from in the future. Done well, they can easily be revised, communicated and used for training. Documenting them well and keeping on top of them is just a matter of simple housekeeping, which is merely a habit forming process.

If you need advice on future-proofing your policies, need them to be more robust, or need to start from scratch, then give us a call here at Baswich Business Consultancy. We’ll be pleased to help.

Getting to Grips with Jargon!

As with any industry, the procurement sector is littered with jargon and acronyms. From the outset, you could come across various terms, acronyms and abbreviations within the bid document which you may not be familiar with.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does outline some of the more well used terms … and if in doubt, always ask.

  • RFI / RFQ – Request for Information / Request for Quotation.
  • OJEU / OJEC – Official Journal of the European Union / Commission. (A publication through which all tenders valued above specific thresholds according to EU legislation are published).
  • PIN – Prior Information Notice – advance warning of a contract notice detailing works or services that may be required at some point during the next 12 months.
  • CN – Contract Notice. This sets out details of the service to be procured, the contact details for the buying organisation and how to respond to the opportunity.
  • PQQ – Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. An initial questionnaire to identify the suitability of potential contractors. 
  • ITT – Invitation to Tender. A detailed proposal setting out what you will deliver, how it will be delivered and at what price.
  • Framework Agreement – established with multiple providers of goods, the terms of which can be entered into or called off when the need arises.
  • Contract Award Notice – Details the award of a contract and is published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
  • Open – The Open procurement process commences with a Contract Notice detailing the opportunity and how to secure the tender specification and associated documentation that is available to enable the prospective bidder to respond.
  • Restricted – The Restricted procurement process is essentially a two stage process, commencing when the Contract Notice is issued with a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. Only if you are successful in completing the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire will you be invited to participate in the full Invitation to Tender.

Feeling a bit bamboozled? Don’t worry. You won’t be the first, and, as they say, you certainly won’t be the last. Trying to get to grips with the terminology and its interpretation for your tender bid can be demanding, if not a little frustrating! It’s an old saying, but you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and this is completely true in the world of bid writing.

If you feel you are ready to step up to the table with tender bidding but need a little help along the way, then please contact me for a non-obligation chat.

27 key elements you absolutely need to consider when forming the perfect bid team

So, you’ve decided that bidding for tenders is for you and your business. You’ve researched the implications and the expectations and you think you’re ready to write the winning bid.

First and foremost you will need to ensure that your business has an enviable reputation and be comfortable that you have the capacity to take on extra work and fulfil tender requirements. Identify that there’s a need for your goods and services and register with the right sources to advise you of relevant opportunities.

A notification in your inbox is finally glowing and you’ve had to lean forward in your chair because…that’s right…there’s finally an opportunity that’s right up your street. But don’t go shouting from the rafters too soon, there are a few hurdles you’ll need to negotiate first. Two critical hurdles to establish are who will be part of your ‘bid team’ and what you’ll need to consider.

This will take some strategic thinking as the necessary skills of experience or technical understanding could be the difference in a successful or failed attempt at bid writing.

Allocate sufficient time as the writing will be in addition to the ‘day job’ so to speak. Circulate the bid to other team members to discuss individual interpretations. Each person involved may perceive it differently so differences in opinion will need to be addressed.

Is the bid right for your company or not? Here’s a handy check list of twenty seven key elements you will absolutely need to consider when forming the perfect bid team to make sure you check all the relevant boxes, dot the I’s and cross the T’s.

‘Bid or No Bid’ template:

Solution

  • Do we have a solution that will directly address the needs of the buyer?
  • Do we have relevant references or testimonials?
  • Have we done something similar in the past?
  • Do we know what impact our proposed solution will have on the buyer’s organisation?
  • Is our solution deliverable within the timeframes specified by the buyer?

Timescales

  • Do we know the exact timescales?
  • Are the timescales and the buying process understood and documented?
  • Are the key milestones easily identifiable and can we achieve them?

Alternatives

  • Do we know who else is likely to bid?
  • Can the buyer opt to do nothing?

Needs & Decision Making Process

  • Is the buyer’s business case clearly understood?
  • Is it documented and agreed?
  • Why do they need this now?
  • Do we understand the decision making process, and who is involved?
  • Can we find information regarding the buying decision that is helpful to the tender?
  • Do we know how the decision makers feel about us?
  • Do we have a clear understanding of our unique selling proposition?

Finance & Return On Investment (ROI)

  • Is the contract a good one for the business financially? Do we think the financials stack up?
  • Is there a known budget for the solution and if so, can we deliver within that budget?
  • Do we know how it is being funded? (What is the buyer’s funding source and does this put any additional administrative requirements on us?)
  • Does winning this project/customer give us a strategic benefit (e.g. credibility/references, new market?)
  • Is there a good chance of incremental business from the customer?

Priority

  • Do we have the resources available to respond in the timescales stated in the bid document?
  • Do we know that our currently forecast business will not be put at risk by bidding this?
  • Is it worth reprioritising efforts on current activity to accommodate responding?
  • Are all supplier contracts in place already?
  • Is this buyer organisation on our prospecting radar?

It is important to remain objective and once everyone has agreed that the company can meet the requirements of the bid, a project management plan should be formulated to decided who does what and when with an achievable yet stringent timeline to stay on track. Always allow for set backs and sufficient time to write the final response, accumulate and upload the relevant documents.

If you feel you are ready to step up to the table with tender bidding but need a little help along the way, then please contact me for a non-obligation chat.

I’m a private business, how on earth can I benefit from the public sector??

Public sector, private sector, tertiary sector…just what does it all mean and why should it matter to me?

You may think that it doesn’t matter, but it’s actually pretty important to understand the difference because they can be intrinsically dissimilar in structure, operation and process. When approaching a public sector tender application there are specifics that will be required.

There may be more decision makers in the signing off process for purchases in the public sector. Stringent management reporting may be required, as will timescales for delivery and standards compliance. The main key is to be prepared.

Now, to get you interested in reading on I think it’s pertinent to confirm that the public sector will typically spend over £230 billion on purchasing goods, services and works every single year. A bit of a shock, right? Yes it can be for many businesses and what’s even better news for you is that this figure will generally increase year on year. A whopping 25% of government expenditure is aimed at small and medium sized businesses – worth thinking about if you want to grow your business!

The public sector encompasses approximately 26,000 organisations, with schools ranking the most at around 24,000. But think about the extent of goods required for an effective operation, goods that can range from the miniscule paperclip to huge building rentals. Your business will fit into the equation somewhere.

The public sector spans across the following, which is by no means restrictive:

  • Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs
  • Department for Transport
  • National Health Service
  • Universities
  • Further Education establishments
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Social Housing
  • Emergency Services
  • Non-departmental public bodies
  • Schools

Here’s a second fact to keep you reading on. On average, 600 new tenders are published in the UK every single week. And it’s great news if you are set up for European exports because that will widen your scope to a further 1600 opportunities.

Still think you couldn’t work within the public sector?

Well, what if I told you that for all contracts with a value of less than £100,000 (apart from security focused) there is no Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) to complete? They just keep making it easier for you!

If you want to find out more, get in touch to see how tenders can help you to grow your business.

Are You Ready To Bid?

With £238bn in the pot you should be!

It’s a cliché but if I had a pound for everyone I met who had tried to tender for business and had failed then I would surely be a millionaire! Well, maybe not quite a millionaire but I’d certainly be able to bag a few more holidays with the family.

So why do so many companies take valuable time out of their working day, most probably sacrificing the evenings and weekends too, in order to prepare a tender that is destined to fail? Would you apply for a mortgage if you didn’t have a job? No, precisely.

It might be that an opportunity came along last minute and you knocked a few paragraphs together that you really did think read OK. Or perhaps you suffered from a spot of repetitive hand movement as you picked up and put back down again (several times over) the tender document because you just didn’t quite understand the questions of what the buyer needed. Sound familiar? Like a broken record…

So let’s scrape away all of the jumbled uncertainty and start again with a fresh board and let’s ask “are you ready to bid?”

The public sector currently outsource, by tender, around £238bn worth of business to the private sector every single year. And there’s no sign of this amount being squeezed any time soon, especially when the government is shrinking the size of the public sector. There are no guarantees in winning tenders and there are most certainly no quick wins. But there are many ways to properly prepare and influence an improved chance for a positive outcome. If you get it right, tender bidding can be an excellent marketing channel to grow your business.

Let’s chalk up some essential questions on the board that you need to answer.

1.     Where can I look for tender opportunities?

Your first quest would be to find where to look for tender opportunities such as the government’s Contract Finder portal and CompeteFor which lists supply chain opportunities. Compile a list.

2.     Have I got the right core documents in place?

Once you understand where to find opportunities and have taken the time to review them, you will have an idea of the size and frequency of contracts published that your business can fulfil. The next stage is to ensure you have the correct documentation required in order to meet even the basic criteria of the tender requirements. You will need to be proficient in reporting company data and complete profiles, have up-to-date financial information and be fully compliant with insurance cover to name but a few.

3.     Are my policies and procedures good enough?

One key area where so many businesses fall down is ‘policies and procedures.’ Without the correct processes in place to manage stakeholder interface with quality standards, health and safety, environmental management, and equality and diversity it’ll be like trying to finish a jigsaw with no edge pieces – impossible to complete.

4.     Do I know the golden nuggets that can maximise my chances of winning?

OK great, so once you know you have ticked the box for all of the above, how confident are you in understanding the whys and wherefores in writing a tender in the language of Tender Tsar?

The who I hear you ask? The Tender Tsar is how I affectionately refer to the tender evaluator. He or she is like a God when it comes to your tender application. And if you don’t speak their language, no matter how well you have conformed to questions 1-3 above, you may fall down at the last hurdle. Plus, there are a few more golden nuggets, as I call them, which can offer extra bid brownie points.

Much of this language and positive persuasion will come down to an understanding of the Public Sector Procurement Regulations 2015, which came into force in February 2015. Please don’t be put off by familiarising yourself with the legislation because their main aim is to make public procurement more accessible to small businesses.

The key to all this is to never be complacent, especially if you’re the incumbent supplier, when it comes to tender applications. Always prepare well in advance as opportunities rarely come when you’re on a quiet lull and ensure that your bid compels the Tender Tsar!

I may have thrown a few quirky alliterations and synonyms into this article but rest assured, tender writing is not born of fluff. It is a serious and structured sales process that takes time and commitment and can be very competitive. On the flip side though, if you’re getting good at tender writing, you’ll stand more chance of getting good at building a profitable business.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be providing a regular series of articles to help you prepare a tender bid to best effect.

If you feel you are ready to step up to the table with tender bidding but need a little help along the way, then please contact me for a non-obligation chat. I welcome the opportunity to support your business and can offer a FREE tender readiness review – contact me today.

Summer Lull

I’m often asked if there is a lull in activity over the summer break. After all, if the public sector really was small business friendly, surely they wouldn’t issue tenders during the main holiday season, when people are unlikely to be able to respond to tenders are they?

Well, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. First, there are services which must still be delivered, not everyone goes on holiday during the school holidays after all. Secondly, if you are successful in securing a contract to deliver services, are you really going to say that you can’t deliver services in the summer during the holiday period?

If you’re going away this summer, prepare in advance. Ask someone else to monitor email inboxes for tender notifications, make sure that any outstanding tenders are finalised before you go away and unless you’re taking the whole of August off work, then you should still have time to respond to those Invitations to Tender when you return (although I did raise an eyebrow at one below the threshold tender I saw recently that had a 7 day turnaround).

As ever, the old adage of ‘Be Prepared’ could never be more true over the summer. The public sector does not shut down – even school Business Managers do not go away for the summer – so why should they expect that their suppliers will be closed?

So, don’t expect a lull in the number of tenders issued this summer, you may get caught out!

Framework Agreements

I’m often asked what a framework agreement is, and what does it mean in terms of tendering for a contract. To respond to that question, I’ve tried to summarise the key points below:

A framework agreement is a contract that is used in procurement when there is more than one potential supplier. So for example, if the contract has been broken down into separate Lots of activity (e.g. Boiler installation, solid wall installation, replacement windows), and the overall value of the contract is not guaranteed, then a framework agreement is commonly used. The public sector typically use frameworks for larger value contracts where they want diversity of supply broken down into smaller lots, or where there are some specialist areas of activity that need to be taken into account. It is also a way for the public sector to be able to engage effectively with small and medium sized businesses.

Typically there will be a minimum of 3 suppliers on a framework and the important thing to find out is what the award process will be once you are on the framework. There are 2 options:

1. Call off contract
2. Mini competition

If it is a call off contract, when there is a requirement for work to be carried out, then the bidder who scored the most on the framework is offered the contract, and only if they are unable to fulfil the work in the timescales required does it go to the next highest scoring bidder and so on. If the second stage is a mini competition, then everyone who secured a place on the framework is issued with the specification and invited to bid, usually these are then awarded to lowest price and highest quality, but the % breakdown of the marks should be stated up front.

If a company is on a framework there is no guarantee at all of any work, and many companies forget this and sit back. My advice is always once on the framework, get to know the people in the authority and keep your profile high. It won’t guarantee work, but if you have a higher profile there is a higher chance that you might.

To find out more about framework agreements, or their impact on your company, get in touch.

New EU Procurement Directives

The EU is making some significant changes to procurement legislation, which every member state must adopt: the UK Government has set out its intention to implement these changes as soon as practical, and potentially by the Autumn of this year. Some of the key changes to the legislation include:

  • increased use of supplier self declarations, resulting in less paperwork for bidders
  • the use of the negotiated procedure will be less constrained, meaning there are more opportunities to negotiate contracts than before
  • previous poor performance on contracts can now be taken into account & you can be specifically excluded from a contract if you have not performed previously
  • statutory minimum response times for tender documents are being reduced
  • buyers can now award certain services to social enterprises without having to advertise them (services under £625,000)
  • buyers can not set minimum turnover requirements at more than twice the contract value

These changes are significant for businesses, and should allow for increased participation by smaller businesses. But, the potential response timescales have been reduced, so smaller businesses will have to ensure they have eveything in place that is required to respond to tenders to allow them to meet the deadlines.

If you want to find out more about these changes, or how they will impact on your business, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to find out more!